by Charlotte Wood
(last updated August 18, 2017)
When the idea of a free checking account entered the banking world, it was a revolutionary idea. Free checking? Score! What does free checking mean though? Is it just free from the traditional monthly fee associated with other kinds of accounts or is everything really free? It sounds too good to be true and most of the time it is. Free checking may be partly free or even mostly free, but do be aware there are other fees hidden and tied in to other aspects of your banking experience.
Some banks boast of free checking, but there are obvious fees associated with that like one for the ATM card, for using the debit feature on your card, for checks, teller fees, etc. Paying money to use your money is a pain and one that in an ideal world you wouldn't have to deal with. While almost all checking accounts have special disclaimers that go along with their free checking agreement, some accounts are definitely more "free" than others.
Usually free checking accounts cover just the basics so if you're the kind of banker who just needs a place to put their money, a place where you can easily spend and deposit without too many strings and loopholes, then a free checking option could definitely be the way to go. In my experience with free checking accounts, it really can be free if you just use the basics and don't have any extra add-ons to the account. That is something to consider because sometimes the bare minimum isn't what's in your best interest. If you frequently purchase official checks and money orders, it might be worth paying a bit extra for a special package that either reduces or eliminates the additional charge.
The fees I'd definitely avoid are ones that charge for using your debit card and fees for not maintaining a minimum balance. Almost every bank you look into has some version of free checking (meaning no fee for simply have the account), but the perks may vary according the bank. I think free checking is always the way to go if it provides enough of what you need. Going for an upgrade that costs more is okay too if that's what suits your financial needs best.
So free checking can definitely be a good deal if it includes what's important to you. If it doesn't, then why open the account up, even if it is free? The point of all those different checking accounts is not necessarily to eliminate fees, but rather to best fit and accommodate your fiscal priorities. If free checking fits in to your plans, then it's a good deal.
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